NEW YORK - Not every musician will make a film that features a fan facing him from a concert audience with two arms raised, middle fingers extended - more than one fan, in fact.Neil Young was singing protest songs on a "Freedom of Speech" tour with David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash at the time. Ignoring that kind of nonverbal speech would contradict the message, wouldn't it?
It was an easy call. Using the nom de plume Bernard Shakey, Young directs "CSNY: Deja Vu," a film that uses the tumult surrounding CSNY's 2006 concert tour as a backdrop for exploring divisions in the country over the Iraq war. It opens in theaters on Friday.
Before the tour, Young had released "Living With War," the blunt anti-war album where he was backed by a full chorus on songs like "Let's Impeach the President." There was little mistaking his intentions; one of the film's funniest moments shows Young almost physically knocked back when a CNN reporter mentioned the song and asked him, "What's that song about?"
Young invited journalist Mike Cerre along to speak to members of the audience.
"The interviews we got were more positive than negative," Young told The Associated Press. "But we tried to represent the people who didn't come by, trying to equalize the positive and negative."
Neil YoungIt wasn't hard to find unhappy fans at a handful of shows, most obviously in Atlanta. Many streamed out, or stayed to offer hand signals. Some had inexplicably expected a greatest-hits show. Young said he was blown away watching families fight, the children wanting to stay while their parents were eager to leave.
He also had narrators read from concert reviews, positive and negative. One critic said, "I don't want to be told how to think by four aging hippies." Another said CSNY wasn't interested in free speech, "just the kind they believe in."
Plainly, he had struck a nerve. No one likes seeing angry fans, but Young had no interest in backing down.
"Just because I'm famous doesn't mean that I work for the audience," he said. "I'm not obligated to do anything. I'm an artist. I will do what I want to do. Whatever the consequences ... I certainly hope that it's a civilized reaction."
Through Cerre's contacts, "Deja Vu" tells stories of people band members met along the way. The characters include songwriter Josh Hisle, now a performing musician after two tours of duty with the Marines in Iraq; Gold Star mother and anti-war activist Karen Meredith; and Patrick Murphy, an Iraq veteran now a freshman congressman from Pennsylvania.
The title "Deja Vu" is also a hint that Young seeks to draw connections to CSNY's activism against the Vietnam War roughly 40 years ago.
Young has resisted playing one of his best-known songs, "Ohio," about the shooting of anti-Vietnam War demonstrators in Kent State, because he didn't want to seem like he was exploiting the victims' memories. The song was dusted off and given new context in the "Freedom of Speech" tour.
When he released his album, Young had said it was a shame that someone older had to write those songs, implicitly criticizing the generation fighting the Iraq war. He's since been set straight, finding a lot of music addressing the topic was being made; it just hadn't found an outlet. Young now features a lot of it on his Web site, which keeps a constantly refreshed chart on which songs are being played the most.
Young never wants to do such a tour again, and not just because he hopes for peace.
"It's too draining and terrifying," he said. "I was committed to it ... and I followed it all the way through to the end, but it's very dangerous and it's not fun. Singing those songs every day and meeting the soldiers and meeting people who were crying about their lost loved ones every day? We did that ... but I don't want to spend the rest of my life replaying that."
The artists received death threats, although this point isn't raised in the film.
"It's not very positive and it doesn't reflect well on society," he said. "That's where I drew the line. I just did not want to play that up."
There's one touching moment in "Deja Vu" when Young gathers his fellow band members around and thanks them for watching his back. They were all committed to the cause, although Stills was the one displaying the most obvious ambivalence.
Stills has been fundraising for Democratic candidates for years, but being put in a daily situation facing angry fans was tough on him. "Stephen is a wonderful guy," Young said. "He just doesn't like to be not liked."
Young said he believed in everything said and done during the tour, but "I've moved on to what's the solution." He believes oil fuels many of the world's conflicts and is helping to finance researchers all over the world hoping to find alternative fuel sources.
He considers the period during when the Iraq war was new and dissent was seen to be non-patriotic to be a blight on the nation's history. Even if he's moved on, he doesn't want moviegoers to forget it.
"I hope that when they leave that they talk about it for a while, and that when they wake up the next day they still have some images from it in their mind," he said. "The rest is up to them."
© 2008 Associated Press